Monday, February 4, 2013

Christmas, Mawlid, Birthdays, and other things like Strawberries!

A run-down of recent happenings of life in Burkina:

Our Christmas celebration in the Sourou Valley was a lot of fun.  While last year I stayed in village, went to church Christmas morning, and ate greasy rice for lunch with my Christian neighbors, this year I left my village and went by bike to nearby Yo and Toumbila (villages of Brook and Careth, respectively).  Christmas Eve was held in Yo, where Brook had prepared chili, cornbread, and an assortment of cookies.  We stayed up rather late, drinking hot cocoa and wine, chatting, and eating an insane amount of cookies.  Then we all piled into her cozy house, found a spot on the floor, and covered ourselves in blankets (it’s cold out!!  It drops down into the 70’s, you know!).  The next morning, while wearing sweaters and wrapped in blankets, we had hot cocoa and more cookies for breakfast, along with bouille (porridge).  Soon after, Molly and I biked the 30 minutes back to our village to pick up some supplies for Christmas dinner that day in Toumbila (Careth’s village).  Christmas Day was the marché, and we not only wanted some yummy things for dinner with the gang, but also for ourselves, so we had something of substance (i.e. veggies as opposed to simply rice or just boiled corn paste every meal) to eat until the next marché, in five days.  By noon we finished our grocery shopping….and our Christmas gift shopping.  Yup, procrastinating happens in Africa, too, and Molly and I had forgotten to bring white elephant gifts to the party.  Thank goodness for the marché, where you can find ANYTHING your heart desires.  Mesh shirts with bedazzles and OBAMA GIRL written on them?  Yes.  Huge, sparkly dollar sign earrings.  You bet.  Various cheap little plastic trinkets from China that will break within a day or two?  Guaranteed.  The typical African marché has no shortage of ideal Christmas gifts.   When we got to Toumbila (just a little past Yo), we helped with preparations for our Christmas dinner.  Chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, cranberries, and bread were on the menu, along with wine and other cocktails.  After eating way too much, we had our white elephant gift exchange and ate some candy canes and peanut brittle.  I ended up receiving the perfect gift – crocheted fingerless gloves made by Careth!  Had anyone else received them, the gloves would’ve been thrown in a box somewhere and forgotten about.  Who wears fingerless gloves…especially in Burkina Faso?  But I, on the other hand, can make perfect use from them…back in the US, anyways.  Like when I’m playing my clarinet or trumpet outside and it’s cold.  So for me, the perfect gift.  Thanks, Careth!   Soon after opening presents, I began to feel sick.  Just like in America, it is that time of year when everyone is sick; Burkina is no exception.  It might have been from eating too much, and maybe it was just a bug I had caught.  But either way I wasn’t feeling so great.  I had a fever and headache and muscle aches.  No throwing up, thank goodness, but not in any mood to socialize with everyone else, either.  So I laid myself down inside the house and spent several hours napping, shivering, sweating, etc.  My parents called me to wish me a “Merry Christmas” and rub it into my face that they were eating homemade ice cream.  It didn’t help my attitude that everyone outside was drinking cocktails, laughing, eating delicious rum cake and spice cake made by Careth, and telling stories.  Fortunately, the next morning I felt much better, and everyone had even set aside a little bit of cake for me.  The rum cake was excellent topped with maple butter that Elijah’s parents in Vermont had sent.  For breakfast, we had crepes topped with homemade jams (raspberry-pear-plum; strawberry-rhubarb; mango) courtesy of Careth’s family, along with chai tea.  Yup, when volunteers get together, we make sure to eat well.  If there’s anything we focus on in Burkina, it’s food.  And eating as much of it as possible (provided it’s good and flavorful, unlike typical village food).  We spent the afternoon lounging around, imagining we were at a spa and putting facial masks on our sun-damaged faces as well as soaking our feet.  So refreshing.  And finally, once the heat of the day had passed, we headed home!  Christmas = success.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
New Year’s proved to be quite the celebration(s).  Everyone was celebrating, of course.  And so that meant that I was invited to a lot of parties.  Starting around 5pm, I left my house all prettied-up in a cute white and purple sleeveless dress made of traditional fabric, and I made my way to different neighbors’ courtyards, along with Molly and Careth, who were along for the adventure of greeting my neighbors. We were served popcorn and salad and goat head soup and oily over-cooked macaroni and Cokes and candy and more.  At Molly’s friend Omar’s house, we were served a tasty salad drenched in sweetened condensed milk, and I have decided that it is the best thing ever.  When I get back to the U.S., my salads will be drizzled with the thick, sugary milk.  Best salad dressing ever!  Omar also presented us with rabbits – cute, cuddly rabbits that Molly named “Mr. Fluffer Butter I and II”.  But these bunnies weren’t for hugging….they were for eating.  And Careth was horrified and Molly distressed.  I just laughed…but was also kinda sad.  It was interesting that Omar wanted us to the see the rabbits live, before they were on our plates. “I want that you look into their eyes,” he said.  Well, with the bunny situation and the fact that it was only 9pm and we still had several other houses to get to before midnight, we headed out and said we’d come back later to eat the rabbits. (We never did make it back for rabbit, but can only assume that Mr. Fluffer Butter I and II are in a much better place now).  The finale of the night was at the major’s house.  All the functionaires (teachers, nurses, vet, etc.) who had stayed in village rather than leaving for the big city were there, dressed in their best.  Music was playing.  People were dancing.  And when we arrived, just before midnight, we feasted: garlic grilled chicken; salad with parsley dressing; green beans; bread; beer.  Considering I had been eating all evening already, I was ready to burst after stuffing my face with all the goodies provided at the functionaire party.  Then the dancing really started.  We danced for several hours and by 3am, we were ready to call it a night.  We went back to my house and passed out til the morning.  And then the parties started all over again.  By 11am, we were once again out and about, wishing people a happy new year and eating their food.  By the time we were done celebrating for those two days, I’m pretty sure Careth, Molly, and I had consumed at least 6 different salads each!  But you gotta eat it while you can – in a month or so, salad season will be over and there will be nothing to eat except onions, mangoes, leaves, and boiled flour paste.  Yummy.

Band from Mali
One night there was a band from Mali performing in our village at “La Flore,” the awesome bar-dancing restaurant right next to Molly’s house.  With the recent war and struggles in Mali, all music has been banned.  And that is extremely sad.  I can’t imagine a war against music.  But it’s happening.  According to : “Islamist militants are banning music in northern Mali, a chilling proposition for a country where music is akin to mineral wealth.”  So, musicians in Mali can’t perform safely in their own country, and so many have left, going to nearby Ghana, Cote d’ivore, and chez moi – Burkina Faso!  The band was fun to watch, with a traditional drummer, electric guitar, bass, trapset, kora (kinda like a local guitar), keyboard, 4 female singers, and 2 male dancers.  Molly and I even got up on the “stage” to dance with some of our friends for a song!

Muslim Funeral
So an old lady died.  I don’t know who she was and why/if she was important.  But she did die, and so a funeral was held, and it was a pretty big deal.  Molly’s homologue Abdoulaye invited all of us to the funeral, and so by 8am, Molly, Jason, Sierra, and I were biking over to Abu’s house, ready to experience a Muslim funeral.  Basically, it was a really laid-back even, where we just sat around and shook hands with people we didn’t know.  Omar, Molly’s friend with the rabbits, is Abu’s nephew and so we sat near him and he made us tea.  Around noon we were served some oily rice with a piece of goat meat.  Naturally, they gave us the “best” parts of the meat, so instead of an actual piece of meat, we received a random assortment of liver, intestine, heart, etc.  Mhhmm mhmm.  Speeches were made in the afternoon, and then there was dancing.  A “professional” group was performing for the funeral, and that was really fun to watch, despite the clouds of dust that were kicked up, making it hard to see or breathe.

Getting My Hair Braided

Got my hair braided! .....yes it hurt horribly, and yes it took 4 hours, and yes the hair artist was breastfeeding her toddler while doing my hair (you can see her boob and child's hand/head behind me in photos), and yes i lost a LOT of hair in the process and will lose even more when it gets taken out in a few days (or weeks?), and yes this is all my REAL hair (not a weave or mesh, thank you), and yes I have had my hair like this for 2 weeks now and thus not washed my hair for almost 3 weeks.... love africa....
I guess I’m becoming a real African now.  My hair’s all fixed up, just like everyone else.  And whenever anyone sees me, they comment, “Ah! Ta tete est jolie!”  (your head is pretty!)  I decided to get my hair braided for my birthday, and also because I haven’t had my hair braided “African style” in over a year.  So I figured it was time.  It’s been nice for the most part: it stays out of my eyes/face and  doesn’t need to be brushed or even washed, really…I just get it wet with water.

Beth’s Birthday (January 23)
My actual birthday, the 23rd of January, was a Wednesday, and thus, I had school.  Four hours of teaching math to 240 unruly, smelly teenagers.  Not the best way to start a day of celebration.  Due to Molly not being able to get back from Ouaga – she had some of the ingredients needed to make my birthday food -- my celebration was postponed until Friday.  I spent my birthday relaxing a bit, reading a book, working in my garden, and then meeting my homologue at “Grilled Fish Place” (or more accurately, “Le Diamond” or also “Chez Zakaria”) for grilled fish and beer around 5pm.  We had some good conversation, and then I went back to his house where he proceeded to make me pasta while I took a look at his newly acquired computer.  Which, by the way, I’m fairly certain he bought only because I’ve been talking about the importance of education and technology skills for having a promising future in Burkina, and because I know how to “manipulate” a computer and can thus help/teach him during the next 6 months, and because he now has electricity in his house and so using a computer on a regular basis is more feasible.   His making me supper was a nice gesture.  I wasn’t hungry after all that fish and beer, but in Burkina, eating food is not considered a “meal” unless you’ve got a big plate of carbs (rice, to, pasta, yams).  Also, I had kinda been harassing him at Grilled Fish Place about women’s rights and gender equality.  This was especially interesting/applicable to him, since his wife and new baby haven’t been around in over a month.  Right before Christmas, Beatrice and baby went to Beatrice’s village to visit.  And in Burkina, visits often mean a week or two, as travel takes a long time and is spendy.  So, this whole time, my homologue had been living by himself, much like a bachelor again, having to cook for himself and do his own laundry and get water.  He was complaining about how hard it was to manage all the work his wife normally did, in addition to teaching, and I countered that with the fact that women in Burkina who are educated and work as teachers or nurses still have to do all the housework and childcare, even though they also work outside the home…   and so we got into a debate about gender roles and equality, blah blah blah.  Anyways, perhaps to prove that he’s not a complete sexist jerk, he made me spaghetti with a pretty decent tomato-veggie sauce (until he threw in the dried fish).  It was entertaining watching him try to cut up garlic and then ask me if it’d work to throw some green beans into the tomato sauce…   Overall, the meal was pretty good.  Not amazing by any means, but certainly not bad.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to the taste of fish in all my food by now.  So it doesn’t really bother me anymore…

Mawlid (Mohamed’s birthday)
Mawlid is the fete (celebration) when Muslims celebrate the “Birth of the Prophet” Muhammad, which occurs in the third month of the Islamic calendar.  This year, it was observed on January 24, the day after my birthday.  I celebrated that evening with my neighbors (the courtyard of women, i.e. Batoma and her daughter Barkissa) and we had salad, macaroni, fish, and even a little chunk of beef for each of us!   Also mangos from Bobo, brought by friend who was visiting Lanfiera.  After eating it was time to pray (Muslims pray 5 times each day, with the last time being around 8pm), and all the women laughed and said I needed to pray with them.  I washed my face, hands, and feet, just like they do before they pray, wrapped a scarf over my head and covering my shoulders, and then mimicked my neighbors actions and movements, from the bending down to putting our arms in the air.  Afterwards, we made our way to the mosque, where everyone was running around.  Literally.  For the celebration ,everyone circles the mosque 7 times, either on foot or by riding a bicycle, moto, donkey, or cow.  It’s quite chaotic and dangerous.  I’m not sure how no one got hurt.  I was scared for my life a few times when motos spun out of control and skidded towards me.  I also ran around the mosque (on foot) 7 times with my neighbor, although I almost got trampled by a donkey!  Following the running, we returned to the courtyard to finish eating --- there was salad and bread to eat yet --- and around midnight we headed towards the mosque again.  Everyone found a place to sit on the ground and listen to the prayer leader read stories from the Koran.  Some people were making coffee or tea, and others passed out candy or peanuts.  This happened well into the night, until at least 3 or 4am.  But I was tired and so just after 1am, I called it quits and went back to my house to sleep.

Beth’s Birthday Celebration (January 25)
My birthday party celebration was held on Friday, the 25th, just after Mawlid! We killed a mouton (sheep), made chili (American style...kinda), had a spontaneous dance circle, and all the women dressed in their best clothes and attempted to sing me "Happy Birthday" in French despite most of them not really being able to speak French. Molly and her homologue's friend from Ghana both were there to help me, thankfully, since 15 women and all their numerous children showed up despite me having only invited (and planned for) my six neighbors... oh well.

Football!!!!  (i.e. soccer)
It’s soccer time!  The African Cup of Nations is in full swing, and there’s not a soul in Burkina who’d dare to miss a game against their Burkina Stallions.  People crowd 20-30 deep around a tiny 8 inch TV to watch these exciting games.  And there’s good news!  While Burkina usually tends to fail at most everything (sorry Burkina, but it’s true!  You ‘re a very poor country with not a whole lot going to your name…), they’ve been staying alive in these games, having tied twice and one once.  I watched their third game against Zambia in full with a bunch of male functionaires at the hospital, and they were so intense, screaming at the TV, throwing their arms up in distress when a Stallion missed an easy kick, etc.  When Burkina ended up tying with Zambia (I repeat: Burkina tied.  They did not win.  Nor did they lose.  But still, they didn’t win either.), everyone went wild!  Just like in America, when people are totally dedicated to their sports teams.  Also, I love watching the soccer matches, because the commercials are just as ridiculous as the Super Bowl’s ads.  Tonight, February 4, 2013, as I wrote this, it’s a big night for sports: the U.S. Super Bowl is happening AND Burkina is playing its 4th game of the cup against Togo.  In fact, Burkina has just WON, as in seconds ago, in overtime, beating Togo 1-0 and securing a place in the Cup’s semifinals!!!!  WHOO Burkina!  For once you’re not losing at everything!  I hear tons of cheering from neighboring houses, motos burning their tires, cars honking their horns….it’s gonna be a party for Burkina tonight!

Strawberry Season!
Those who are so fortunate to be in Ouaga during the months of February and March can find strawberries.  They are delicious and big and red and juicy….and expensive.  But that doesn’t stop any of us from buying a kilo of strawberries anytime we see one of the ladies walking around outside with a big metal bowl on her head filled to the top with red berries.  A kilo of strawberries costs about $4, which I guess is pretty comparable to what you buy them for in America.  But for here, that’s expensive, considering that for the same amount of money I could buy 6 plates of rice and sauce!  I think I have paid for 4 kilos since I’ve been in Ouaga the last 3 days.  But they’re so good and such a nice refreshing treat.  I typically eat them plain, but some of my berries were mixed into vanilla yogurt, and a bowlful was cut up and sprinkled with sugar.  Before I catch my bus back to village in the morning, I’ll eat a nice breakfast…of strawberries, of course!

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